Chicago Bears: Ryan Mundy

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Lovie Smith finished 10-6 in his final season with the Chicago Bears before being fired. Marc Trestman comes in and leads the Bears to an 8-8 record in 2013. Yet expectations soar here on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, where crowds for training camp practices routinely swell to 10,000.

It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.

The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.

If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?

“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”

Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.

“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler is more comfortable in coach Marc Trestman's system, and all of his offensive weapons are healthy and ready to go.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.

2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.

3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mundy
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears brought Ryan Mundy in to compete at safety, but the position, at least in camp, continues to look shaky.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.

2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.

3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
  • The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
  • Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.

Bears Camp Report: Day 13

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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BOURBONAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Morning showers soaked the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University on Tuesday. So the Bears moved their session across the street to Ward Field, where the club could practice on FieldTurf. “The players handled the transition today and the weather. We moved some things around, went indoors for our walk-through, came out here for the first time in full pads, got a lot of work done, moved some guys around and we made it through the day,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We wanted to make sure we got this one in. We had Plan B and Plan C. Plan A worked pretty good and we got a lot of work done.” According to a school official, the same company that installed the surface inside the Walter Payton Center laid the FieldTurf at ONU, with the work being completed approximately three weeks ago. The school’s soccer teams used the field for the first time on Monday, and the Bears were the first football team to put the surface to use.
  • Zach Miller continues to state a strong case to win the job as the club’s No. 2 tight end. Miller put together another solid outing, catching every ball thrown his way during the various team periods.
  • Backup quarterback Jordan Palmer struggled during Tuesday’s workout, throwing a pair of interceptions to safety Chris Conte and defensive end Willie Young. The INT thrown to Young hit the defensive end squarely in the chest. Conte secured his pick in the end zone during a red-zone drill on a pass intended for Micheal Spurlock. Trestman declined to say whether Jimmy Clausen had overtaken Palmer on the depth chart. “I don’t think we’ve had any movement there at all,” Trestman said. “We’ll move people around. We’ll see how they play in different environments and we’ll make a decision when we have to.”
  • Trestman said “it’s too soon to talk about” whether Conte will play Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Conte came off the physically unable to perform list on Monday and has practiced just two days.
  • Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray continued to take snaps at safety with the starters. The club did work in Conte and Adrian Wilson with the starters as well.
  • Brandon Marshall spent time catching punts during special-teams periods, but don’t expect the club to use him in that capacity during games. “Brandon Marshall likes to get into some drills that maybe he shouldn’t be in,” special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said.
  • Non-participants for Tuesday’s session included Chris Williams (hamstring), Eben Britton (hamstring), Jordan Mills (foot), Brian De La Puente (knee), Marquess Wilson (collarbone), Isaiah Frey (hamstring) and Lance Briggs. Briggs isn’t injured. He was given a day off, which Trestman routinely does for veterans.
  • Keep an eye out for linebacker Jerry Franklin, who is taking snaps with the starters on some of the coverage and return units on special teams. He’s also been taking reps with the second team on defense.

Bears Camp Report: Day 12

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
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BOURBONAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Several players injured earlier in camp returned to action on Sunday, while safeties Chris Conte and Craig Steltz came off the physically unable to perform list. Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) practiced along with Kyle Long (ankle), after both missed the preseason opener Friday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive end Jared Allen also returned to practice after missing multiple days to be with family for the birth of his daughter. Conte took some repetitions with the starters, but spent the majority of the day working with the backups.
  • Obviously the time spent watching Charles Tillman is helping Sherrick McManis, who executed a perfect punch to knock the ball out of the arms of Micheal Spurlock after he made a catch on an intermediate pass.
  • Non-participants at the workout Sunday included right tackle Jordan Mills, who was wearing a walking boot on his right foot, along with Eben Britton (hamstring), Chris Williams (hamstring), Isaiah Frey (hamstring), and Brian De La Puente (knee).
  • Having returned from an indefinite suspension earlier in the day, tight end Martellus Bennett drew loud applause from the crowd after he caught a pass near the sideline. Bennett stayed after practice to run extra springs with Conte, Steltz, Jennings, Alshon Jeffery, Josh Bellamy, Matt Forte, Armanti Edwards and Josh Morgan. Bennett and rookie quarterback David Fales continued to run after everyone else had left the field.
  • Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray continue to work with the starters at safety. Both starting positions remain up for grabs.
  • The practice on Sunday attracted the largest crowd so far at camp. There were 18,500 in attendance at the workout on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University.
  • The Bears practiced in shorts, helmet and shoulder pads, and the workout was one of the most lively sessions of camp, which is somewhat impressive considering the team had just played in a preseason game two days prior.
CHICAGO -- With Martellus Bennett serving an indefinite suspension, reserve tight end Zach Miller took full advantage of the extra repetitions, catching six passes for 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Chicago Bears soared past the Philadelphia Eagles 34-28 on the strength of strong play from their quarterbacks.


Chicago's top three signal callers combined for 339 yards and four touchdowns.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chicago Bears' first preseason game of the year:
  • Considering Jay Cutler hasn't played an entire 16-game season since 2009, Chicago's competition for the No. 2 quarterback is vitally important. Both candidates made strong cases with Jimmy Clausen coming out with a slight edge. After Cutler performed sharply in two possessions (9 of 13 for 85 yards and a TD for a passer rating of 112.7), Jordan Palmer entered the game with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Palmer started 3 for 3 for 39 yards before throwing an interception to Nate Allen on his fourth attempt. Palmer completed 8 of 11 for 104 yards and a touchdown to go with a passer rating of 94.9.

    Clausen, meanwhile, passed for 150 yards and two TDs for a passer rating of 134.6. Clausen's first scoring strike came on a 73-yard bomb to Chris Williams. He later hit Micheal Spurlock for a 22-yard touchdown, before finding Rosario for the conversion.

    Clausen may lead the No. 2 QB derby right now, but don't expect coach Marc Trestman to make a decision about the backup until later in the preseason.
  • Chicago's revamped defense put together a strong showing in the three possessions the starters played. Ryan Mundy and Sherrick McManis contributed interceptions as the defense held Philadelphia's first-team offense to 55 yards and 0-for-2 on third-down conversions. Remember, the Bears ranked last against the rush last season. But their starters limited Philadelphia's starting offense to 11 yards on four attempts. The front four generated plenty of pressure in the passing game, too. Mundy's interceptoin with 13:26 left in the first quarter came from a rushed Foles throw due to heavy pressure from Lamarr Houston.
  • Mundy and Danny McCray came out with the starters at safety, while Adrian Wilson and rookie Brock Vereen worked with the second team.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller received an extended look in his NFL debut. Although the starting defense played just three possessions, Fuller stayed in the entire first half and contributed three tackles.
  • Center Brian De La Puente suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter. The severity wasn't immediately known. De La Puente left the field under his own power, but shortly after the team announced he'd be out for the game. Williams suffered a hamstring injury on his touchdown reception and was unable to finish the game.
  • Non-participants Friday included Chris Conte and Craig Steltz, who remain on the physically unable to perform list. Tim Jennings (quadriceps) and Isaiah Frey (hamstring) were also held out along with Eben Britton (hamstring), Kyle Long (ankle), Jordan Mills (foot) and Bennett (suspension).

W2W4: Chicago Bears

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:00
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The Chicago Bears (0-0) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) open the preseason Friday night at Soldier Field.

1. Backup quarterbacks: Expect Bears coach Marc Trestman to pull the starters after a series or two, which means we won’t see much of quarterback Jay Cutler. We already know what he can do. The team needs to see whether Jordan Palmer or Jimmy Clausen can get it done if called upon. So they’ll receive the bulk of the snaps in this game. Trestman already has said that Palmer will receive first crack at the No. 2 job. So he’ll probably come into the game immediately after Trestman pulls the starters. Palmer has been solid, yet unspectacular, in camp. The same can be said about Clausen, who has performed a little better so far than Palmer. Trestman isn’t likely to name a bona fide No. 2 after this game, but the picture should clear up a bit.

2. Safety play: While abysmal play at safety in 2013 can be attributed at least in part by inconsistency along the defensive line, there should be no excuses now with all the retooling the club has done along the defensive front. Almost every day, the Bears have opened practice with different combinations at the position as both spots are up for grabs. Adrian Wilson, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and rookie Brock Vereen have all taken first-team reps. The unofficial depth chart released by the team lists Vereen and Mundy as the starters. So there’s a good chance they’ll run with the No. 1 defense against the Eagles. But we should see all five of the aforementioned safeties extensively. Keep a close eye on Wilson, because there’s still a question as to whether he has anything left in the tank. The Bears hope Wilson pans out because he could add an intimidating presence on the back end that the club has lacked in recent years.

3. Front seven: The Bears spent the bulk of the offseason revamping a front seven that played a major role in the team ranking last in the NFL in 2013 against the run. The Bears made changes to the coaching staff, overhauled the scheme and added Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Now we get a chance to see whether all the work will reap rewards. There’s a chance Allen won’t play -- he’s been excused to be with his family for the birth of his daughter. So Young and Trevor Scott will likely take the bulk of Allen’s reps. Perhaps the most significant change in the scheme involves the emphasis on defensive linemen using their hands properly to engage and shed blocks. That’s why the Bears brought in martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive line hand-fighting techniques. So from the first team all the way down to the on-the-bubble players, we should see significant improvement in that area, which in turn should bring optimism about how the group will perform in the regular season.

Bears Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
4:09
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
  • Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
  • Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
  • Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
  • The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson received his opportunity Friday to run with the first team at Chicago Bears practice, but the move shouldn’t be seen as an indication the team has narrowed its search for starters at the position.

The Bears want to see multiple combinations occupying the two open safety jobs, and they’re making sure none of the candidates become comfortable with the rotation. There’s a chance the Bears will open practice Saturday night at Soldier Field with a different combination on the back end.

Wilson
“The rationale is that it’s an open competition and we’re gonna move people around,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I think what Adrian’s done is he’s kind of worked himself back into playing football, and we’ve kind of just stood back and allowed him to acclimate himself to not only what’s going on in the classroom, but get his feet underneath him on the field. He continues to get a little better each and every day.”

Out of football for the entire 2013 season, Wilson seems to be gaining a level of comfort in Chicago’s scheme, and the staff has noticed that the safety’s conditioning has improved. As each day passes, Wilson appears to play faster, and members of the staff think he still has the ability to play safety in the NFL.

Wilson still needs to impress with strong performances in the upcoming exhibition games.

“[Defensive coordinator] Mel [Tucker], [defensive quality control coach] Chris [Harris] and [secondary coach] Jon [Hoke] felt it was time to move him up there and get a day’s practice,” Trestman said. “We’ll look at the tape and see how he did, and continue to move people around.”

Wilson played opposite Danny McCray with the starters when the Bears opened up team drills and remained with the No. 1 defense throughout the day. With both safety jobs up for grabs, the Bears have utilized several combinations at the position. Ryan Mundy and rookie Brock Vereen have taken snaps with the starters, as have McCray and M.D. Jennings.

Chris Conte and Craig Steltz will also be a part of the competition when they return from the physically unable to perform list.

Conte has been the starter at free safety for the majority of the last three seasons and is a favorite to win a starting job in 2014, provided he returns healthy after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Steltz, meanwhile, has been sidelined with a groin injury.

Bears' Chris Conte lands on PUP

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
6:34
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Three-year starting Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and is expected to miss the team's first preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 8, general manager Phil Emery announced Wednesday.

Conte is still recovering from shoulder surgery he elected to undergo on March 26 to fix a lingering problem that plagued the safety for more than a year.

Conrath
Conte
There is no concrete timeline for Conte to return to the practice field.

"I can't predict healing," Emery said. "I wish I could. I'd make even more money than I'm making now. But Chris is where he's at. He made the decision that he wanted surgery and he pressed forward and he's in that recovery phase. We anticipate that somewhere here in camp, not before the first preseason game, but after that, that he'll start practice. Depending on how well he practices and how well he responds to contact will determine how many preseason games he plays after that first one. But it won't be the first preseason game."

Despite setting career-highs in tackles (90), interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (1), Conte experienced a bumpy 2013 season that culminated with a fourth-quarter busted coverage in the Week 17 finale against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Conte's struggles, however, were magnified by the Bears' porous front-seven on defense and their inability to tackle ball carriers before they reached the second level, which forced all of the team's defensive backs to repeatedly make difficult open field tackles. The Bears surrendered a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game last season.

Regardless, Conte faces intense competition to earn a roster spot in 2014 after the Bears beefed up the safety position by adding Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Brock Vereen (fourth-round draft choice).

Fellow safety Craig Steltz is likely to practice on Friday after he underwent offseason groin surgery, but a final determination won't be made until later in the week, per Emery.
Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) and left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) have received full medical clearance to begin camp. Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long will be sidelined indefinitely due to a viral infection.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Third-round draft choice Will Sutton practiced on Thursday after being excused the previous two days for what he called "a family emergency".

Sutton never went into specific details about the matter but said "everything is good now" when asked if the situation had been resolved.

"I talked it over with the coaches and they let me go," Sutton said. "They said to take as time as I need but I'm here today."

Sutton felt he performed fine on Thursday despite missing the first two days of the club's mandatory minicamp, but the Arizona State product revealed that he plans to return home in the weeks leading up to training camp to ensure that he keeps himself in top physical shape. Sutton gained weight his final year with the Sun Devils that caused his production and draft stock to dip.

He is currently listed at 6-foot, 303 pounds on the Bears' official offseason roster.

"I'm just going to go back to Arizona and train," Sutton said. "It's going to be hot. It's going to be hot.

"My weight isn't a problem. I put on the weight [last year] because I was told to. It's not a problem. It's not that I'm lazy and don't work out."

Speaking of working out, the Bears don't necessarily view the five week gap between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp as a vacation. Bears head coach Marc Trestman delivered that message to his team at their final meeting before the players left the building Thursday afternoon. Apparently, Trestman's speech resonated within the locker room.

"There's no real time to rest," Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "You might take your weekends off, but for five days a week you need to get ready for training camp. It's not time to take off."

Kicker Robbie Gould added: "The time to take vacations is in January."

The Bears are set to report to training camp on July 24 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

• Teams can learn a lot about themselves over the course of an eight-week NFL offseason program.

But can you actually tell if a team will be good in the regular season based on OTAs and minicamp?

"No, you really can't tell," Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings said. "All you can tell is where your team is at. You don't know where you are going to rank, but you know what you have at this moment."

• The Bears clearly like that they have seen from rookie safety Brock Vereen. He took all the first-team reps alongside Ryan Mundy throughout the entire minicamp, but the organization is not ready to anoint Vereen a starter.

• Trestman described undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Lynch as being in the mix for a reserve role in the Bears' offensive backfield.

"We have a logjam from two through five [on the running back depth chart]. Jordan is in that logjam. A lot of that will be balanced out with special teams. I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads with the rest of the younger guys.

"Jordan is doing well."

• Safety Chris Conte was excused for a third straight day due to an illness that the Bears were concerned could be contagious, according to Trestman. However, the bulk of the roster was present on the final day of minicamp, although right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, cornerback Sherrick McManis and Matt Slauson did not participate.

• Safety Craig Steltz went through individual drills for the third straight day while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had full participation after he rested on Wednesday.

Observations: Vereen challenging at FS

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
4:02
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Based on the organized team activities (OTA) portion of the Chicago Bears' offseason program, rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen looks to be a serious contender to earn a permanent place in the starting lineup.

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoBears safety Brock Vereen, who participated in the team's rookie minicamp in May, is adjusting to playing in the NFL.
Vereen took all the first-team reps at safety alongside free-agent signee Ryan Mundy on Wednesday, as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz continue to be sidelined due to injuries. M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray handled the reps on the second team.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [by the starters reps], but I know nothing is set," Vereen said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it.

"It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

Vereen played multiple defensive back positions in college for Minnesota, but appears best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL. Mundy is built like a strong safety at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but the safety spots are generally viewed as interchangeable.

Here are other observations from Wednesday's OTA, the final session open to the media:

• With Matt Slauson still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brian de la Puente worked with the starters at left guard. Many consider de la Puente to be the heir apparent to Roberto Garza at center, although the former New Orleans Saints starter signed only a one-year contract with the Bears in the offseason.

• Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were present this week after being absent from last week's open OTA to the media.

• The Bears' trio of linebackers in their base defense during the majority of team drills consisted of D.J. Williams (MLB), Lance Briggs (WLB) and Shea McClellin (SLB). However, both Williams and McClellin came off the field in the nickel package in favor of Jon Bostic.

• Rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller continued to run with the No. 1's in nickel as Tim Jennings mainly bumped inside to cover the slot with Tillman at the opposite cornerback spot.

Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson in the end zone on back-to-back passes during a red zone drill. Marshall did have a couple drops over the course of the afternoon.

• Marshall did return a punt at one point on Wednesday.

• Reserve quarterback Jerrod Johnson saw action on special teams when he lined up as one of the two cornerbacks tasked with slowing down the gunner on punt return. Hard to remember a quarterback wearing the orange "off-limits" jersey ever participating on special teams before. But Johnson held up just fine during the drill and flashed some impressive speed trailing the gunner down the field.

• New quarterback Jimmy Clausen received fewer reps than Johnson and rookie David Fales, but the former Carolina Panther had some zip on the ball and seemed to have a decent understanding of the offense whenever he went under center.

• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.

Observations: Scuffle breaks out

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
4:39
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A brief skirmish broke out at Tuesday's organized team activity during a team drill between members of the Chicago Bears' starting offense and defense. Involved in the short-lived fracas was defensive end Lamarr Houston, right tackle Jordan Mills, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Jared Allen.

Teammates quickly intervened to end the fight, but not before Bennett slammed his own helmet to the ground in frustration.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoChicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had some outstanding catches during Tuesday's organized team activities in Lake Forest, Illinois.
"We are just competing,” Houston said afterward. "This is a competitive sport. That's the atmosphere Coach Trestman wants. We are competing every day to get better. Sometimes people get heated, but all we are doing is competing out there. It's exciting out there. It's a competitive atmosphere. We're having fun in practice.

"That's football. We just go back to the next play and keep working. It's nothing personal. Marty is a good guy. He's a good friend of mine. I'm going to go in there with him after this. Everything is all good.”

Bennett later tweeted: "I go hard every [expletive] day. No doubt about that. Not a single ounce of [expletive] in me.”

Here are several other observations from Tuesday's voluntary session:

• Former New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente split reps with Eben Britton at left guard with starter Matt Slauson sidelined due to a shoulder injury.

• Middle linebacker D.J. Williams worked out in front of the media for the first time in the offseason. Williams was absent from last Tuesday's open OTA, but did participate in practices later in the week that were closed to the media.

Charles Tillman's absence on Tuesday opened the door for veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden to receive a look on the first team at cornerback in the base defense and in the nickel package. Hayden missed the entire 2013 regular season after tearing his hamstring in training camp. Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller still worked with the starters in nickel when Tim Jennings bumped inside to cover the slot.

• Hall of Famer Mike Ditka watched Tuesday's workout from the sidelines in Lake Forest. Ditka addressed the team last year following a practice at Halas Hall, and had his number retired by the Bears during halftime of the team's Monday night Dec. 9 game versus the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field.

• Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashed his strong hands when he went up and snagged a red-zone pass over Jennings.

• Safeties Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen had blanket coverage on Brandon Marshall on a deep Jay Cutler ball down the middle of the field. The pass fell incomplete.

• Rookie David Fales and second-year quarterback Jerrod Johnson received extra reps in team drills as No. 2 QB Jordan Palmer took a backseat to allow the young quarterbacks to get extended looks.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chris Conte is unsure of the exact date he'll receive medical clearance to return to the field, but the Chicago Bears free safety said on Tuesday he's experienced no setbacks with his surgically repaired shoulder.

Conrath
Conte
Conte underwent a procedure on March 26 to correct a lingering shoulder issue. The team originally announced Conte would be sidelined four-to-five months.

"As soon as I can get back out there, I'll get back," Conte said following the team's organized team activity.

"But I can do a lot of stuff with the shoulder. The Bears have a whole protocol of things that I need to be doing [to strengthen the shoulder], and I go by what the doctor says. I'm just following orders. I haven't had any setbacks or anything. Everything is going well."

Conte and fellow veteran Craig Steltz were spectators at Tuesday's open OTA while free-agent addition Ryan Mundy and 2014 fourth-round draft choice Brock Vereen spent much of the workout lining up at safety with the first-team defense. Newcomers M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray worked on the second-team.

"There are a lot of different faces, but it's definitely an opportunity for me to focus and work on the mental aspects of things," Conte said.

"Rehab is going well. I'm just taking it every day as it comes and I think it's going as good as it can go. The most important thing is I feel good."

Starting left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) was also present at Halas Hall on Tuesday, but failed to participate. Weak side linebacker Lance Briggs took part in individual drills but left the field at the beginning of team drills and did not return. Briggs left the field under his own power without the assistance of any member of the club's medical staff. Briggs did not appear to be physically injured.

Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff missed Tuesday's voluntary session.
Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy, Brock VereenGetty Images, AP PhotoThere will be plenty of competition at safety, but should the Bears add another veteran?
With the draft in the books, the Chicago Bears get an up close look at their eight picks and undrafted free agents during this weekend's rookie minicamp, beginning Friday.

While many questions have been answered in free agency and now the draft, many remain. Our panel takes a look at some as the Bears kick off their first rookie workouts:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Even after free agency and the draft, safety is still a major concern for the Bears.


SportsNation

Do you have faith in Chris Conte as a starting safety?

  •  
    23%
  •  
    77%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,599)

Dickerson: Fact. I have a hunch the Bears are not done addressing safety. Maybe a veteran player pops loose from a roster in the next several weeks, or a player is available via trade at some point before the start of the regular season. There are too many unknowns to simply close the book on creating more competition. Ryan Mundy is the closest thing to a starter based on the amount of guaranteed money he received from the Bears when he signed in the offseason, but after Mundy the picture is fuzzy. Will Chris Conte have a bounce-back year following shoulder surgery? Is rookie Brock Vereen ready to make an impact as a rookie? Will the Bears give Craig Steltz an opportunity to be a full-time starter? All these questions will eventually be answered, but until they are, safety remains a concern.

Wright: Fact. Mundy and Conte, who is coming off shoulder surgery, appear to be the most viable options as this team's starting safeties, and I'm not sure whether fourth-round pick Brock Vereen can seriously challenge for one of those jobs. Vereen obviously possesses several enticing traits athletically, but the Bears probably need to add a veteran at some point before the start of camp (so the new addition has a legitimate chance to learn the system) to really ramp up the competition at safety. It doesn't appear that the Bears did enough in the draft to address the safety position, but at the same time, there weren't many options, as Vereen was the best available after the team decided to grab Kyle Fuller earlier in the draft.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Kyle Fuller is poised to make the biggest impact of any Bears rookie.


[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastKyle Fuller should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact as a nickel corner.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Fuller is going to be on the field around 60 percent of the snaps every week. In fact, the Bears used three cornerbacks 70 to 80 percent of the time last season in a couple of games. Nickel cornerbacks in the NFL are essentially viewed as the 12th starter on defense. Fuller will have plenty of chances to make plays on the ball beginning in Week 1, as long as he stays healthy and develops as expected. First-round picks are expected to contribute immediately. Fuller will be no different.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. But only because Fuller will be given more of an opportunity to do so since he'll probably be the team's starting nickel corner. Running back Ka'Deem Carey could possibly make an impact, too. But he won't be on the field nearly as much as Fuller. With Fuller, the Bears will have some scheme versatility because of the rookie's wide-ranging skill set, and I expect the coaches to line him up in various spots on the field in different situations to take advantage of what he can do.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should have signed a rookie free-agent punter rather than using a draft pick on one.


SportsNation

Do you have a problem with the Bears drafting a punter in the sixth round?

  •  
    16%
  •  
    84%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,057)

Dickerson: Fiction. Drafting a punter is not all that uncommon in the NFL, although the Bears haven't used a draft pick on the position since Todd Sauerbrun in 1995. Clearly, the Bears believe Pat O'Donnell can be a weapon for them on special teams. His college career accomplishments at Cincinnati and Miami are impressive. The only way taking a punter in the draft can be considered a mistake is if he doesn't make the team out of camp. I find it hard to believe (barring injury or an off-the-field incident) that anyone besides O'Donnell will punt the ball for the Bears in 2014.

Wright: Fiction. If you like a player, you draft him. It's not as though the Bears dove into uncharted waters by drafting a punter. Several teams have done it and will continue to do it. Considering the Bears took O'Donnell in the sixth round instead of later, the team obviously liked what he brings to the table. Former Bears punter Adam Podlesh was a fourth-round pick in 2007 by Jacksonville, and the only reason he ended up leaving for Chicago was the Jaguars couldn't afford to pay him. So to circle back around, if a team likes a player and thinks he can help, it should draft him. That's what the Bears did with O'Donnell.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Jordan Lynch will make the team and contribute this season.


[+] EnlargeJordan Lynch
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesJordan Lynch will get a chance to prove he belongs in the NFL with the Bears.
Dickerson: Fiction. Lynch impressed me at the NFL combine in February with his attitude and confidence. He impressed me even further when he worked out in front of NFL scouts at multiple positions, instead of steadfastly clinging to the idea he had to play quarterback at the next level. I'm excited that Lynch signed a free-agent deal with the Bears and will have the opportunity to be on an NFL roster in the preseason. But it could be a stretch to assume Lynch will make the team or make an impact in his rookie season. Perhaps a better short-term goal is for Lynch to earn a spot on the Bears' practice squad next season. But this is all premature until we witness how Lynch acclimates to his position change from quarterback to running back over the next several months.

Wright: Fiction. This is a difficult one to try to predict because although Lynch was a read-option quarterback at Northern Illinois, it's hard to envision how his skill set as a runner will transfer as a running back. Lynch passed for 51 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions in college, while completing 61.8 percent of his throws. To me, that warrants consideration for at least a shot to play his natural position. But as a running back, I don't think Lynch will make the roster, and I certainly don't expect him to contribute as a rookie playing out of his natural position. Hopefully, Lynch proves me wrong.
One week after Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery called the safety position “wide open,” the Bears bypassed the top two safeties in the 2014 NFL draft class (Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) and selected Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round at No. 14 overall.

Fuller
Many wondered why the Bears invested a first-round pick at cornerback over safety since Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are entrenched as starters for the upcoming season.

Emery explained the club’s thought process on the matter during an in-studio interview with ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko Show” on Thursday.

“You can’t lose sight that as a league, the corner position is more valued,” Emery said. “There was a number of top safety contracts recently signed: Jairus Byrd, Earl Thomas, Donte Whitner and T.J. Ward. Look at those contracts versus the top cornerback contracts recently signed: Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib, Sam Shields and Joe Haden. On the average, those deals for cornerbacks are much higher, starting on average per year from $10 million to $14 million. The range for safeties is about $7 million to $10 million on the very top end.

"Cornerbacks have always been more valued than safeties, so you always have to look at the value of the position. You also have to look at who you play and at the league as a whole. A good portion of the time your third cornerback is a starter. There were times last year the nickel cornerback played 70 to 80 percent of the snaps. We look at the nickel as a versatile player that can play inside, outside and cover tight ends, running backs and wideouts. We definitely knew we would get the rep value when we took Kyle Fuller. For us, that was the best player for the Bears.”

Mark Carrier remains the last Bears safety selected in the first round (1990). The Bears have taken only two safeties in the second round since 2000 (Mike Brown and Danieal Manning) but seem to address the position on an almost annual basis. Brock Vereen, taken in the fourth round this year, is the ninth safety chosen by the Bears in the past 10 drafts.

The rookie joins veterans Ryan Mundy, Chris Conte, Craig Steltz, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Sean Cattouse in the battle for the two starting safety spots.

“As it stands right now, the starters will come from that group,” Emery said. “We feel that is a very competitive mix.”

Bears draft focus: S

April, 24, 2014
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The Chicago Bears haven’t drafted a safety in the first round since Mark Carrier in 1990.

That drought could end next month.

Safety is clearly a position of need for the Bears after they lost both starters from last year: strong safety Major Wright left in free agency to Tampa Bay and free safety Chris Conte underwent shoulder surgery in late March that is expected to sideline him until the preseason.

The Bears did address the position in free agency by signing Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray, plus re-signing veteran Craig Steltz to a one-year deal, but the starting combination is far from set. It is conceivable that a rookie draft pick could start for the Bears at safety in Week 1, along with perhaps Mundy.

If the Bears decide to take a safety at No. 14 overall, there are two options: Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.

ESPNChicago.com reported that Pryor made an official pre-draft visit to the Bears, while the NFL Network noted that Clinton-Dix also made a recent trip to Halas Hall.

Clinton-Dix is said to have terrific instincts and above average coverage skills.

Pryor is one of the hardest hitters in the draft. He can absolutely destroy ball carriers in the run game. Newly hired Bears assistant defensive line coach Clint Hurtt spent three years with Pryor at Louisville as the Cardinals’ defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator.

ESPNChicago.com also noted Washington State safety Deone Bucannon made a top-30 pre-draft visit to the Bears in March. Another physical tackler, Bucannon intercepted six passes in 2013 and finished his career with 15 total picks for the Cougars. Most analysts project Bucannon will be drafted somewhere in the second or third round.

The Bears took a safety in the third round every year from 2010-2012 (Wright, Conte and Brandon Hardin). That approach failed to solidify the position long-term.

Maybe it’s time for the Bears to swing for the fences.

Five potential targets:

1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
2. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
3. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
4. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
5. Terrence Brooks, Florida State

The next five: 6. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor; 7. Maurice Alexander, Utah State; 8. Ed Reynolds, Stanford; 9. Daniel Sorensen, BYU; 10. Antone Exum, Virginia Tech.

Position grade: B

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